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Mubarak Steps Down, Hands Authority To The Military

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned his post and handed the authority for running the country's affairs to the military, bowing to 18 days of pressure by pro-democracy demonstrators who refused to accept anything less than an end to his three decades of authoritarian rule.

Jubilation erupted across the country at the news that Mubarak had left office, with thousands of Egyptians in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities pouring into the streets to celebrate, dance, chant "Goodbye! Goodbye!" and wave Egyptian flags.

Fireworks were shot into the sky and car horns were sounded as people celebrated the fall of the regime they say has kept the country poor and oppressed for 30 years.

Radio Free Afghanistan's Abdul Raouf Harawi described the scene in Cairo: "Everybody went out to the streets in happiness to welcome this historic moment. People came out in their cars onto the street making lots of noise. They congratulated each other and distributed different kinds of sweets to each other. At the same time, political figures and teachers and intellectuals and people from all backgrounds were all welcoming this moment."

In the capital, where huge crowds marched on parliament and the presidential palace -- the site of Mubarak's final, unsuccessful attempt to regain control of the country on February 10 -- the biggest celebration was in Tahrir Square, which has been epicenter of nearly three weeks of antigovernment protests.

At a Cairo metro station, someone used spray paint to cross out the “Mubarak” stop on the map and change it to “The Martyrs.” The graffiti artist then posted the picture on Twitter.

Military Assumes Power

The announcement that the 82-year-old president was stepping down and handing control to the army came in a brief statement by Vice President Omar Suleiman on state TV at 6 p.m. local time.

Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement that Mubarak was stepping down.

"My fellow citizens. In this difficult time that the country is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to relieve himself of his position as president. He has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to take control of the state's affairs. May God protect us," Suleiman said.

Almost instantly, tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in Cairo erupted in a frenzy of celebration, dancing, and waving Egyptian flags and chanting, "The people have brought down the regime!" People hugged and cried, and shouted, "Egypt is free!"

Hours earlier, Mubarak and his family left Cairo, arriving just before sundown in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has a resort home.

The country is now ruled by the Armed Forces Supreme Council, which is the military's top body consisting of top generals and headed by Defense Minister Muhammad Hossein Tantawi.

An unidentified military spokesman appeared on state TV and promised that the army would not act as a substitute for a government based on the "legitimacy of the people." He said the military was preparing the next steps needed "to achieve the ambitions of our great nation" and would announce them soon.

Ibrahim Karawan, the former director of the Middle East Program at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL he doesn’t think Mubarak will remain in Egypt.

"Mubarak himself doesn't pose a danger to the [new government], but I believe that he and his family will go abroad because he cannot stay in Sharm el-Sheikh,” Karawan said. “Sharm el-Sheikh itself is not immune to the rebellion and upheaval."

Leaderless Revolution

In the end, it took just 18 days to bring down a 30-year-old regime, but the anger that drove Egyptians into the street had been building for years.

What began as a youth movement on January 25 quickly grew into a popular, leaderless uprising that expanded as the days went by to include Egyptians of all ages, social classes, and religious persuasions -- Muslims and Christian, old and young, professionals and laborers stood shoulder to shoulder.

Some 300 people were killed in the antigovernment protests, while others were detained or beaten by security services. Many journalists were also abused or injured in the chaos, including AP photographer Khalil Hanna (above), wounded during clashes on February 3.

The demonstrators remained defiant despite orchestrated attacks from pro-regime thugs that led to an estimated 300 deaths and detentions and beatings by the security services. Throughout, they never dropped their demand that Mubarak step down and a new democratically elected government take his place.

Just as Egyptian youth took their inspiration from Tunisia, where citizens brought down the regime of President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali last month, the Egyptian revolution has rocked the Arab world and triggered similar uprisings in Jordan and Yemen, and inspired calls for protests in Syria, Algeria, and Morocco.

In a reflection of the type of nervousness some Arab leaders are feeling, Bahrain's king announced that he will give 1,000 dinars ($2,650) to each Bahraini family. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, a Sunni, is reportedly the target of protests planned next week by the majority Shi’ite population. Activists have called for protests on February 14, the 10th anniversary of Bahrain's Constitution.

The man who set up the Facebook page that first called Egypt’s youth to action, and who then was detained by security police for most of the uprising, said today he was proud to be an Egyptian.

Democracy activist Wael Ghonim, who is Google’s marketing manager for the Middle East and North Africa, told CNN by phone, “"I am proud to be Egyptian. I just want to say from the bottom of my heart: 'Congratulations to all Egyptians!' And I want to say 'Welcome, Egypt!'"

Obama: 'History Taking Place'

Throughout the upheaval, Mubarak seemed not to understand that he had become the symbol of the protests -- saying on February 10 "this isn't about me." In his last appearance as president, he defied all expectations that he would resign and instead offered more incremental reforms and reaffirmed his pledge not to seek reelection.

Mubarak, a former air force commander, came to power after the 1981 assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, by Islamic radicals. Throughout his rule, he showed a near obsession with stability, using rigged elections and a hated police force accused of widespread torture to ensure his control.

Opposition protesters celebrate Mubarak's resignation in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

In Washington, President Barack Obama made a statement to reporters after meeting with his national security advisers to discuss the latest developments.

“There are very few moments in our lives when we have the privilege of witnessing history taking place. This is one of those moments, this is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same,” Obama said.

He said that by stepping down, Mubarak had responded to his people’s "hunger for change" and vowed that the United States would “continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt.” He said, “We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary, and asked for, to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.”

Obama praised the Egyptian military for “acting responsibly as a caretaker to the state” and called on it to ensure that people’s rights are protected, the emergency law is lifted, and a clear path to free and fair elections is laid out.

“I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead and many questions remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers and do so peacefully and constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks,” he said.

'Finally Free'

Reaction from other world leaders has poured in. India said it welcomed Mubarak's resignation "in deference to the wishes of the people of Egypt" and "the commitment by military leaders to establish an open and democratic framework of governance."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also welcomed Mubarak's decision to resign and said his decision to hand power to senior military commanders was a "historic change."

British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Egyptians and citizens of other Arab nations for speaking "so bravely and so peacefully for change in their country."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered Egypt the world body’s assistance, saying, “I commend the people of Egypt for the peaceful and courageous and orderly manner in which they have exercised their legitimate rights. I call on all parties to continue in the same spirit. The United Nations stands ready to assist in the process."

Ahmet Davotoglu, Turkish minister of foreign affairs, tweeted: “Congratulations to the Egyptian people. And we hope that a system meeting the expectations of the Egyptian people will emerge.”

Iran, which is celebrating the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, said Egyptians have achieved a "great victory." Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam television, "The conquest by the will of the great Egyptian nation over the resistance and persistence of officials who were dependent on the world powers is a great victory,"

Palestinians in Gaza shot off fireworks. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, "The resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is the beginning of the victory of the Egyptian revolution."

Israel, which considered Mubarak a strong security ally, said it hoped his resignation won't change its peaceful relations with Cairo. A senior Israeli official told Reuters, "We hope that the change to democracy in Egypt will happen without violence and that the peace accord will remain."

The day’s dramatic events were cause for celebration among demonstrators but for some, not reason enough to go home. Many said they planned to remain in Cairo’s Tahrir Square until the military’s next steps become clear.

Abdel-Rahman Samir, one of the Cairo organizers, said the movement would now open negotiations with the military over democratic reforms but vowed protests would continue to ensure change is carried out.

"We still don't have any guarantees yet,” he said. “If we end the whole situation now it's like we haven't done anything. So we need to keep sitting in Tahrir until we get all our demands."

Abdul-Rahman Ayyash, who described himself as an online activist and was born eight years after Mubarak came to office, said he would be celebrating all night, and then remain in the square to ensure the military "won't steal the revolution."

"I'm 21 years old," he said. "This is the first time in my life I feel free."

written by Heather Maher, with contributions from Richard Solash and agency reports

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Shevchenko was initially handed a four-year suspended sentence in February 2021 for having links with the opposition group Open Russia. The sentence was later cut by one year.

Shevchenko was the first person in Russia charged with “repeatedly participating in the activities of an undesirable organization.” Previously, violations of this law were punished as a noncriminal offense.

Shevchenko's supporters have said the case was a politically motivated attempt to stop her activism and punish her for showing dissent publicly.

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The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office declared Open Russia "undesirable” in 2017.

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Prosecutor Seeks Nine Years In Prison For Siberian Journalist Charged With 'Discrediting' Russian Armed Forces

Maria Ponomarenko

A prosecutor has asked a court in the Siberian city of Barnaul to convict and sentence journalist Maria Ponomarenko to nine years in prison on a charge of discrediting Russia’s armed forces with "fake" social media posts about the war in Ukraine. Ponomarenko's lawyer, Dmitry Shitov, said the prosecutor also requested the court to bar Ponomarenko from journalistic and online activities for five years. Ponomarenko was arrested in April 2022 for her online posts about Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.


Ukraine To Receive 100 Leopard 1 Battle Tanks, German Defense Minister Says In Kyiv

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius presents a miniature copy of a Leopard tank to his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov in Kyiv on February 7.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has made a surprise visit to Kyiv, where he announced that Ukraine is to receive more than 100 battle tanks of the older Leopard 1 type from several European countries.

The number of tanks is enough to equip at least three battalions, Pistorius said without naming the countries aside from Germany that will send the Leopard 1 tanks. They are to be shipped by the first or second quarter of 2024.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Pistorius, who took the job of defense minister less than three weeks ago, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov during his visit.

"Thank you to @Bundeskanzler my colleague Boris Pistorius and the German people. The tank coalition is victory!" Reznikov said on Twitter.

The German government last week said that it had approved the export of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine but the government spokesperson who made the announcement declined to comment on the number of tanks that would be exported.

A joint statement issued by the Economy Ministry and the Defense Ministry said the export of up to 178 Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks to Ukraine had been approved. The statement added the exact number that will be delivered "depends on the required maintenance work."

The Leopard 1s are not as advanced as Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged to send Ukraine last month after the United States agreed to send M1 Abrams tanks. Germany initially showed reluctance to provide Leopard tanks or to allow third countries that have Leopard tanks to send them to Ukraine.

Reznikov's tweet showed him and Pistorius holding a model of the Leopard 2, saying the "first" of the pledged battle tanks had arrived in Kyiv. "There will be more of them," he added.

Ukraine has asked its Western allies for heavier weapons to confront invading Russian troops who continue to launch attacks along the front lines in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv’s military reported more attacks on February 7 as Ukrainian officials continued to warn that Moscow was preparing for a fresh offensive in the region.

Russia’s military launched six missile and 24 air strikes in the previous 24 hours, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian military early on February 7. The General Staff also reported 75 artillery strikes, including on civilian targets in the eastern and southeastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kherson. It said there had been an unspecified number of civilian casualties.

Later, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, reported that one person had been killed and five wounded as a result of overnight shelling in the Donetsk region.

The General Staff also said that 1,030 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine over the 24-hour period, although such casualty figures are impossible to verify.

The fresh fighting comes after Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said that Russia is deploying reinforcements in eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive.

"We are seeing more and more (Russian) reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in," Hayday told Ukrainian television on February 6.

"They bring ammunition that is used differently than before -- it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive," Hayday claimed.

Britain's Defense Intelligence said in its daily report on February 7 that Russia's military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.

However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they "lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive", it said.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces are fighting attempts by Russian troops to surround the city of Bakhmut and break the city's defenses.

Speaking in his evening address on February 6, Zelenskiy thanked every soldier involved, singling out specific brigades.

Intense fighting has been raging for weeks around Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

For months Russia's main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters

Almost 8 Million People Have Fled Ukraine, UN Aid Chief Says

Some 17.6 million people, or almost 40 percent of Ukraine's population, need humanitarian assistance.

The UN's emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that nearly 8 million people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's invasion almost a year ago. Almost 8 million people fled from Ukraine to neighboring countries, while another 5.3 million are internally displaced, Griffiths told the UN Security Council in New York on February 6. The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that 17.6 million people, or almost 40 percent of Ukraine's population, need humanitarian assistance.

Russian Pleads Guilty In U.S. On Money-Laundering Charge

Russian citizen Denis Dubnikov pleaded guilty on February 6 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the U.S. District Court of Oregon. Dubnikov is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11. The Russian national, who had been sought by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly laundering cryptocurrency tied to a notorious ransomware gang, was extradited to the United States from the Netherlands in August. U.S. prosecutors accuse Dubnikov and his co-conspirators of laundering the proceeds of ransomware attacks. They allegedly laundered $400,000 in payments from victims of Ryuk, a ransomware gang believed to have extracted $70 million from individuals and companies around the world, including in the United States.

U.S. Vice President To Map Out Next Steps To Aid Ukraine At Munich Security Conference

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (file photo)

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to discuss Washington's future support for Ukraine when she travels to a major security conference in Germany next week. Harris will travel to the Munich Security Conference, scheduled to begin on February 16, as Ukraine readies itself for a new Russian offensive. A White House official said Harris will use her speech to celebrate the courage of the Ukrainian people, reaffirm international support for the country, condemn Russia's actions, reaffirm Washington's mutual defense commitments under NATO, and "outline the path forward" on Ukraine. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Invited To Take Part In EU Summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been invited to take part in a summit of European Union leaders, the EU said on February 6. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, invited Zelenskiy "to participate in person in a future summit," Michel spokesman Barend Leyts tweeted. Leyts did not say when Zelenskiy might take up the invitation and specified that no further information would be provided "for security reasons." The next EU summit is scheduled to take place on February 9-10 in Brussels. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Salman Rushdie To Release New Novel, Six Months After Stabbing Attack

Salman Rushdie (file photo)

A new novel by Salman Rushdie will be published on February 7, nearly six months after a man repeatedly stabbed the writer onstage during a lecture in New York state in what was widely condemned as an attack on freedom of expression. Rushdie, 75, was blinded in his right eye and his left hand was badly injured in the stabbing, which happened more than three decades after Iran instructed Muslims to kill Rushdie because of what religious leaders alleged was blasphemy in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Poll Shows Steady Support Among Americans For Ukraine Reclaiming Its Territory

Rescuers carry a woman who was wounded inside a residential building by a Russian missile strike in central Kharkiv on February 5.

Nearly one year into the war in Ukraine, Americans’ support for Kyiv holds steady, according to a Gallup poll released on February 6. The poll shows 65 percent of U.S. adults polled want the United States to support Ukraine in reclaiming its territory, even if that results in a prolonged conflict. Thirty-one percent said they would rather see the United States work to end the war quickly, even if this allows Russia to keep territory captured in its invasion. The data is from a Gallup web survey conducted January 3-22.

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